–The Grace of Mary Traverse, Timberlake WertenbakerThere are so many marvelous lines and stunning passages in this script, I hesitate to pull out one bit to represent. Put this on your reading list. Better yet, stage the thing. Especially recommended for feminists and women’s studies scholars.
Five years ago today I took what has, apparently (and god willing), become my last drink.
It was half of a small plastic cup of red wine from a box left over from one of our events at the Olde Brick Theatre.
It was after I got done teaching an acting class on a blustery day and I thought I’d have a little warm up before the walk back to my home in West Side.I didn’t know it was going to be my last drink.
I didn’t know it was going to be my last drink.
Sobriety was never a goal for me. I never tried to stop drinking.
I’m very fortunate in this regard and I know it.
I have seen so many people struggle – wanting to stop, yet not able to stop.
Respect for that struggle is actually what kept me from drinking those first six months.
I didn’t drink on Oct. 10, 2012, because I was scheduled to go to court the next day and drinking the day before a DUI hearing seemed like a bad idea. You might think that getting a second DUI in six years would be a reason to stop drinking.
I was walking from Providence to Hyde Park that evening on Oct. 9 because I had crashed my car that First Friday in June.
I couldn’t afford to buy a car to replace it and I was also pretty sure they’d be taking my license away, so why spend the money on a car I wouldn’t be able to drive for a year.
(Excuse me for a moment while I thank god for stopping me before I hurt myself or someone else because let’s be honest – I would have kept doing it. It’s not like I was doing it on purpose. I never made the conscious choice to drive while intoxicated. At least not one I remember making. It just sort of happened. I wanted to get away from where I was. To go home. And my tolerance had gotten so high that I could get drunk enough to not realize how impaired I actually was.
And if nothing bad happens, are you really doing anything wrong? How bad does it have to get? You wake up the next day thinking, shit, I probably shouldn’t have driven home last night. But the world goes on like normal and so you let it go. And then it happens again.)
So I continued to drink through that summer until October. Not every day. And not that much, except a handful of times when I undoubtedly over did it. (Mudball 2012, I’m thinking of you.)
But until the court asked me to stop, no one ever suggested stopping was a thing I might consider.
On the morning of Oct. 11, the court asked me to go to an AA meeting. That day.
Are you kidding me?
But I found a way. And I was asked to go to 90 meetings in 90 days which I thought was preposterous and impossible.
But it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
The discipline it found in me – getting up at the butt crack of dawn and walking to a meeting every day at 7 a.m. in the winter – actually became the keystone around which I would build a very fine addition on life’s house.
It was the respect I had for the people struggling in those meetings that would have ruined the taste of any drink I tried take. What kind of asshole would I be to sit in the room with them in the morning and then go home and have a glass of wine at night?
Even though I could have had just one, just to prove that I could, that I didn’t have “the allergy,” what would be the point? The least I could do was not be an asshole while I listened to their stories.
I didn’t say I was an alcoholic for a long time.
Not until I learned that there are different “types” of alcoholics.
And just because I was not that type did not mean I was not some type.
My sobriety is not a secret, so why shouldn’t I talk about it? The incriminating evidence is out there. Who knows how many jobs I got passed over last year because of that background check. I don’t want to know. Maybe none. I know it’s been a rough job market for a lot of people without my record.
I don’t usually talk about my sobriety publicly because I don’t want to seem preachy – as if just because I’ve made a choice I think you should make the same one.
I assure you that’s not the case.
I trust you to make your own decisions. You have to vote your conscience. I’m a fucking green party member, OK. I don’t need to hear how you think that’s a bad idea. 😉
I’m not particularly proud of myself for staying sober. And I’m not looking for a pat on the back. The least I can do in this life is not willfully endanger innocent people. And since I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen the day I might let my guard down again … it’s just better this way.
The truth that I’ve learned – and this is my personal truth – is that alcohol (and/or drugs) did not make my life better. I thought it helped take the edge off. Helped me relax. Helped me have fun and socialize.
But that was a lie. If anything, it made it harder for me to cope to with stress, because the crutch prevented me from using my muscles.
Drinking made my anxiety worse because I didn’t have to learn to work through it and come out the other side of it … unharmed by the fear and stronger for not letting it hold me back. I denied myself the feeling of, “hey I can do this. It didn’t kill me,” that makes a situation less intimidating the second time around.
When I was in high school I loved to get on stage and dance and sing. When did that change? When did I start needing liquid courage to get up in front of an audience? These are the questions I’ve been able to ask myself now that I’ve stopped being so afraid.
I’ve learned I’m an introvert. And that’s OK.
My desire to drink was very much caught up in the misguided notion that I needed to be someone other than who I really am. Someone comfortable with the noise and the crowd who didn’t get so overwhelmed so easily.
The other side of the AA coin they’re going to give me tomorrow morning reads “To thine own self be true.” (They had me at Shakespeare)
I’ve spent the last five years, not wishing I could drink, but grateful that in not drinking I’ve had the opportunity to become reacquainted with who I really am. That little girl I was until someone made me feel bad about myself. And I didn’t know better yet not to let them.
I haven’t seen most of you since I started grad school this summer. And I stopped seeing a lot of you as often as I used to before that… when I stopped going out so often, when I stopped looking for some thing I thought I was missing, and got to work becoming the person I forgot I wanted to be or gave up hoping I could become.
I think what I started out wanting to say here was … to those of you who are struggling, who are suffering … if you’re just feeling bad too much of the time and you know it’s not right, but you don’t think there’s anything you can do about it –
maybe there isn’t,
maybe not by yourself,
You are only one person and you are already doing so much – you’ve probably done everything you can think of. No one expects you to come up with answers you don’t know are out there.
But if you want to make a change in your life, believe that you can. There are options you had never thought to consider.
There are other people in the world who understand the burden you are carrying and will not judge you for it and will even help you carry it if you let them. I’m not going to tell you to take the same path that I have. But if it helps you feel better to believe there are spiritual tools you can learn how to use to climb up and out … if that’s what you want. Believe it. The ones I found are working better than I could have ever imagined.
I’m not trying to rush anyone. We have to find these things, come to these conclusions in our own time.
I’m just trying to pass along a little hope.
I had almost lost mine five years ago.
I’ve learned that not giving up is always a good idea.
And if you are afraid of hurting yourself or someone else there is no shame in asking for help. The things that scare you most today might turn out to be the best things that ever happened to you.
xoxo – ali
Stella for Star (first draft)
Because you have to say “good morning” or make small talk
as you pass the three people out so early with shovels
on the morning of a blizzard
on your way to a meeting
because somebody might relapse today
and if he does, it won’t be because you weren’t responsible.
Can’t listen to the usual *podcastaudiobookspotifybbcradio* headphones
walking down the middle of the street
or you won’t hear the car that’s not going to drive up behind you.
For the next two days all you’ll see are urban redneck pickup plows
and a few fearless SUVs.
It was worth leaving the house to hear a girl called “snow onion.”
There are eight of you that showed up,
who did not make excuses and will carry out the rituals.
Sober alcoholics are more reliable than the post office.
On the trek back home,
after your first blizzard kiss,
fracturing like a wishbone to work from separate homes,
you pass the little Buddha postman
walking in uniform to the office even though he knows
they won’t be carrying today.
It will be Stella that stops the mail,
not a failure on his part to take his oath to heart.
You stop in the neighborhood store because it is open.
Praising the brother and sister owners,
you purchase food you don’t need to show support.
You are their first customer but there will be others.
And now you have to make a blueberry pie.
It is pie day, 3.14, you realize after the fact.
You’d been craving cherry pie since the namedrops at Grandma’s funeral,
but the cherry filling was full of hi-fructose corn syrup,
so you bought frozen blueberries instead.
On the second day, you learn to follow the men and walk in their boot prints, how to turn your back into a snow squall,
that it’s safer to walk in all-black ski clothes at night against the infinite white.
He walks you home and you remind him to realize this may be your last blizzard kiss.
On the third day, you break down the ice wall erected overnight by the snowplows
so your daughter has a place to park when she comes home.
You hope she knows that love is shoveling snow
as lukewarm coffee trickles through your numb lips
down your face smeared with snot that didn’t fit in your pocket tissue.
But at least it has stopped snowing,
you realize as the sun rises through inevitable blue and distant puffs,
In the flood of reflecting light you see that snowdrifts are not white at all
but shades of shadow and sparkle, pockmarked erosion and fossil fuel tinted chunks of ice.
This is the first time in months you are glad to be
a part-time teacher looking for work
because no boss is waiting for you at the office.
Later, you will extemporize about the inequity of snowfall.
How the owners and the managers park in garages,
own snowblowers or pay groundskeepers,
and don’t have to shovel out by hand.
They don’t understand how hard it is to be poor,
unprepared, stranded, alone, weak, or overwhelmed.
It is sad people are suffering,
but you are grateful to this blizzard for melting your writer’s block.
You are happy to be strong enough to move so much weight by yourself,
though you won’t miss hair getting caught in the zipper of your parka
the morbid cold sweat that soaks your bra and T-shirt underneath,
the thirst you cannot quench
or awkwardly pixilated Streetcar Brando Kowalski screenshots.
Tomorrow it will hit 40 degrees.
Stella will dissolve into memory and legends
to be passed down to babies conceived in this storm.
For now, in this moment, your favorite sound is shovel scraping pavement.
You marvel at the difference between the isolated muscles used to aching from the gym
and the full-body force demanded by the blizzard.
You wonder why the birds sound so happy with no food in sight.
A link to a recording of my poem “Radical Fermentation,” composed for John Bromberg upon request to appear in his Scranton Fringe Festival production of the same name can now be found on SoundCloud. There is one major word order error in the recording, but I posted it anyway because our imperfection is a reality to be honored and embraced.
A photo slideshow / video excerpts of the production can be found on YouTube, here: https://youtu.be/mC-LzNMhuu8.
Thanks to Stacy Grega for her help recording while I was on stage.
Stopped into the Goodwill on the way home from yoga this morning in search of light-colored fabric for a photo backdrop. They had several options but also … this 99 cent plaque.
It might be a little cheesy if it weren’t so damn true. And exactly what I needed to hear right now.
In case you do too…
Art is really just an idea,” Mr. Axelrod said. “It’s follow through and direction. What makes a great artist nowadays is being able to put together a team. And he was willing to give up money to put his ideas to life.”
Maybe the greatest quality an artist can possess today isn’t skill or talent — it’s commitment to making a vision real. That means money and time. To create something to make the masses remember your name. What else is fame for?
Walking to work, I cross the path of a woman with tattoos on the back of her thighs. She skips downhill into the projects like a schoolgirl backpack swishing side to side under sun and cirrus clouds on this opening day of the Olympics.
This is why the every four years coincides with the presidential election. We need the news break. We need a distraction from America: Land of the privileged and home of the suppressed (but never not great). We need to feel young again- excited about the sports even amid exotic economic and social protests.
The radio describes a Rio in recession. Dirty filthy water, rodents and snakes, rampant crime, and other #rioproblems.
A physical education teacher who loves sports but he’s angry at the Olympics because there are no balls and no courts for kids to play but they came up with all that money to hold this international spectacle.
Radio program host tells us the BBC reporter at the base of the Christ the Redeemer statue is dancing when the cameras are off. Why shouldn’t she dance dance? Would you, if you were there on this glorious day?